CHAPTER 7 All that is right with alpine style

Early on the morning of 14 December 1991, a large part of the east face of Mount Cook, New Zealand's highest mountain, simply fell away. An estimated 14 million cubic metres of rock gouged a 1.5-kilometre-wide path down the valley as it fell. The height of Cook was reduced by nearly 30 metres to its current altitude of 3724 metres. Already a technically difficult climb, Mount Cook instantly became even more challenging.

That is the nature of the mountains: few environments on earth are as volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous; they are constantly changing. But extremes of temperature and altitude are not the only differentiators of mountainous environments. The mountains that create alpine zones (at least the ones that seem to attract mountaineers) are generally relatively young, meaning they are only recently formed. As such, they have had little time to be reduced in height and jaggedness by the erosive forces of wind, snow and ice. Alpine environments are therefore highly unstable, and it is the combination of these cold temperatures, high altitudes and fierce ...

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